Adding a heavier, retractable metal roof to an MX-5 may strike some as counterintuitive to the whole philosophy behind Mazda’s lightweight sports car. After all, the model has always championed simplicity and purity over appealing to a mass market by dangling trinkets and tricks in a bid to win their monthly payments. However, for Mazda and the MX-S a retractable roof is big news, and in today’s world of more pricey Porsche Boxsters, Lotus Elises, flaccid BMW Z4s, outdated Mercedes-Benz SLCs and disappointing Fiat 124 Spiders, the Japanese two-seater remains a lone, bright star.
Of course, there is sound reasoning behind Mazda’s introduction of the RF – which stands for Retractable Fastback – despite its potential to clash with the soft-top: the folding hard-top version of the old Mk3 MX-5 took more than 80 per cent of sales, a demonstrating that while MX-5 owners might fancy the idea of wind in their hair, they actually prefer to have a tin lid over their heads rather than a fabric one.
The want is strong, then, which also explains why the UK is bringing in 500 examples of an RF Launch Edition. It has the 160hp 2-litre four-cylinder engine, a two-tone roof (its centre painted black in contrast to the Launch Edition’s Soul Red or Machine Grey body colours), the chunky seats from the MX-5 Recaro Edition, and Alcantara trim for the dash and door cards. There’s also a set of BBS alloy wheels in black and a black lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the bootlid, while Bilstein dampers and a limited-slip differential are standard.
The RF’s 3-section roof is fully automatic and while the front and middle sections stow away under the rear deck, the rear screen remains in place between the rear buttresses. To these eyes it’s an incredibly clean and simple design and it’s hard to believe that take-up of the RF won’t match that of the folding hard-top Mk3 – especially as the RF offers the option of a six-speed automatic gearbox, a convenience offered to US buyers of the soft-top Mk4 as well as Singapore.
Naturally the RF will be heavier than the 1000kg at which the soft-top 2-litre MX-5 tips the scales, but Mazda won’t yet reveal by how much. However, we understand that our estimate of an increase of around 40kg isn’t too far a drift.
Prodding, poking and staring at an RF for an afternoon away from the bright lights of a motor show stand makes you appreciate how rare and thin on the road small, affordable(ish) sports cars are. It also makes you question why the Toyota-Subaru alliance hasn’t chopped the roof off the GT86 and BRZ yet; it’s not as though it would have a detrimental effect on either model’s sales, after all.
We enjoy the soft-top Mk4 MX-5. We’re fans of its willingness to please and how it wears its credentials on its sleeve and doesn’t pretend to be anything it knows it can’t be. It’s a simple sports car that appeals to a wide demographic that is strongly supported by an aftermarket industry that can answer most needs – including the fitment of a V8, should you so wish. But even in its standard state of tune it delivers an honest approach to the thrill of driving. Fingers crossed when we drive the RF in a couple of months’ time we’ll find the same still applies.